Daily Hab-it: A difficult decision
Montreal Canadiens' PK Subban, right, collides with Boston Bruins' Brad Marchand during first period NHL action in Montreal Thursday, December 16, 2010.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes
Published Monday, December 20, 2010 1:05AM EST
Last Updated Saturday, May 19, 2012 3:11AM EDT
The Canadiens 3-2 loss to the Colorado Avalanche on Sunday is hardly any reason to panic.
Montreal was in a different time zone, at altitude, playing a team that tops the NHL in scoring and which has now won six straight games over Atlanta, Washington, Chicago (twice), Ottawa and your Canadiens.
Those aren't excuses, simply facts, and if the Canadiens were a great team they would have been able to overcome those obstacles. But the fact they are simply a very good team is no reason to be alarmed.
I thought the Canadiens played pretty well and spent most of their time in the offensive end, as their 63-45 edge in shot attempts would suggest, but it was mistakes in their own end that cost them all three of their goals in much the same way that defensive turnovers led directly to four goals against Philadelphia.
First, a pretty horrendous turnover by Andrei Kostitsyn at his own blue line leads to a Jaroslav Spacek penalty, which in turn leads to Colorado tying the game 1-1 with just over five seconds left in the period. It was enough to make one reminisce about the lovely city of Detroit.
Then, Alexandre Picard not only turns the puck over in the neutral zone, but then has Kevin Porter burn by him before putting a very stoppable backhand past Carey Price to tie it once more.
But it's the final one I'm choosing to focus on, and not only because it was the game winner.
T.J. Galiardi scored one that had P.K. Subban written all over it, beginning with a half-ass effort to clear his own zone by blindly trying to whack the puck off the boards, and ending by him getting pushed into his own goalie as the puck bounced off someone in that gathered mass in front and trickled past Price. Michel Therrien would have considered Subban's all-around effort on the play to be quite "Soff."
If it were just a one-off error by Subban, it would be alright. In fact, it would even be perfectly normal. But we are now five games into his return from purgatory and Subban is showing no signs of the exciting breath of fresh air he was to start the season.
Again, this is normal. He's a rookie, and a young one at that, plus he plays a style that comes with risks. It's natural that it will take him some time to learn to manage those risks, and also to learn how to be a sound defenceman at the NHL level.
But over the past five games, Subban is now a minus-6. That is tied with Benoit Pouliot for worst on the team over that span, and by a fair margin seeing as Hal Gill and Travis Moen are next on the list at minus-3. Hell, the Canadiens as a team are only a minus-5 at even strength in those five games.
Over that same span Subban has one goal and one assist, both coming in the same game, one in which he finished the night as a minus-2. So he's not exactly compensating for his defensive lapses with tons of offence.
It will not always be like this for Subban, and these are situations he has to live through in order to become the player it appears he has the potential to be.
But will Jacques Martin be willing to live with these errors when his system is predicated on limiting opposing scoring chances? And if so, how long?
Those who will say that Subban was killed by his benching may have a point, but I would argue this began long before that. The benching was a result of it less so than a cause, though the defensive errors appear to be much more glaring now than they were before.
This is yet another case of the development versus results argument, because over the long-term Subban will need to be given the opportunity to play through such errors. Only that isn't something written into Martin's DNA (just ask Ryan O'Byrne, who failed Sunday night to top the 20-minute mark for only the eighth time in 19 games with his new team).
The decision on whether or not to sit Subban again is made that much more difficult by the fact there's a perfectly capable replacement available in Yannick Weber, one who is not quite as flashy offensively. But he did have two assists in three games on defence, was a plus-3 over that span, had eight shots on goal (albeit six in one game), helped the power play go 2-for-7 and didn't make any glaring mistakes defensively that cost his team goals.
Oh yeah, and the team went 3-0 in those games, as opposed to this 1-4-0 stretch it is on since Subban re-entered the lineup (Before you freak out, I know Weber played in one of those losses).
In spite of that, I don't think Martin should pull Subban from the lineup. A confident Subban playing at the top of his game will help the Canadiens before the season is over, but in order for him to reach that stage Martin will have to learn to tolerate the current one.
In fact, I'm going to reiterate my belief that Martin should be playing both Weber and Subban while using Picard to give the older threesome of Jaroslav Spacek, Roman Hamrlik and Hal Gill a breather from time to time. Without Andrei Markov around, having these two young offensive defencemen at your disposal is a luxury the Canadiens can't afford to sit on, and better to break them both in now than to do it in April.
Except Martin has made it pretty abundantly clear his tolerance level for defensive irresponsibility is pretty low. And Subban may already have pushed Martin as far as he's genetically predisposed to go.